EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning doesn’t try to do anything special or overly complicated when he takes the field in the preseason. He’s simply checking off boxes on some relatively simple goals.
He’s not going to be trying out specific plays or throws, and he’s not concerned about forcing the ball to any of his new receivers. That's not the point of the preseason for a veteran quarterback entering his 14th season.
“I think for me it’s just finding completions, running the offense smoothly, make sure everybody is on the same page with communication,” Manning said. “But also having great movement in the pocket and not moving too much if you don’t need to. Just feeling the rush and making subtle movements to get your feet in place, throw the ball and make smart decisions.”
Manning is just trying to get his feet wet. He will run or scramble if he has to, but he isn’t about to take any unnecessary hits.
This will be the first time this year that he’s not off-limits to the defense. Quarterbacks aren’t to be touched at Giants practices throughout the summer.
In the preseason, that changes. Manning understands the necessity of it all even if he's not all that excited about the inevitable moment.
“I don’t look forward to a hit, but it’s good to get it under your belt and just know it will be OK,” he said.
Manning, 36, seems to have a pretty good feel of when and where to take hits. The preseason isn't the appropriate time to incur a big one.
Manning is a few weeks away from starting his 200th career game, and recently told ESPN that he thinks he can play into his 40s. His arm looks fine and he’s had a strong summer. With improved weaponry, there is reason to believe he’s in for a bounce-back season.
Training camp has been promising.
“I think his preparation has been what it has always been in terms of exemplary,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “I think there is a sense of confidence he has at this point in this system, having so many years under his belt. Obviously there are some new toys for him to play with, which he is very excited about. I think we are very excited from a coaching-staff standpoint in terms of the adjustments he has made when he is turning loose after practice.
“I think he is taking great care of himself physically and we feel like he is in great position to be at his best during the regular season.”
Manning recently used the word “special” to describe this year’s team. The receivers are likely among the reasons for optimism.
Monday night will be the first time this year that wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram will be on the field together in a game setting. That provides Manning with no shortage of quality options. He's confident they will be able to learn from the experience and hopefully build on it four days later when the Giants host the New York Jets in their third preseason game.
More so than training camp, the preseason games can serve as teaching moments for the regular season, which begins Sept. 10 on the road against the division rival Dallas Cowboys. Manning is looking forward to making the most of his preseason debut on Monday night.
“I think you’re always going to learn something from every practice,” he said, “but especially from every game.”
In a way, the preseason does count.